06/01/04 10:14 EST

It is absurd for Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy to talk about the conditions which allowed a truth and reconciliation commission to operate in South Africa when his government denies rights at home, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams claimed today.

As Mr Murphy continued his fact-finding visit to South Africa as part of the British government`s truth and reconciliation consultation process, Mr Adams said the British government was not a neutral player in the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The West Belfast MP said at the launch of his party`s European Parliament election manifesto in Dublin: "The British government are belligerents. They are combatants. They are not referees. They are not neutral and they cannot come out any more than (PSNI Chief Constable) Hugh Orde has to come up with some plan or protocol for dealing with these issues. I think that there has to be a holistic, comprehensive approach to it and given the history of the British government`s refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan bombs, the Saville Inquiry and to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, I think we have an awful lot of work to do to convince that government that it needs to take a positive and constructive role."

"I also think it is absurd that Paul Murphy or at least a statement in his name in South Africa should talk about the people there being able to reconcile because they wanted to. He conveniently left out the fact that they had democracy restored when certainly in the north of Ireland it is still just a good idea. They had an end to apartheid and still here we have partition."

The candidates running in the European elections in Northern Ireland are: Jim Allister (DUP), Jim Nicholson (UUP), Martin Morgan (SDLP), Bairbre de Brun (Sinn Fein), Lindsay Whitcroft (Green Party), Eamonn McCann (Socialist Environmental Alliance) and John Gilliland (Independent).

The British government last week announced a two-stage consultation process on how to deal with Northern Ireland`s past, insisting it had an open mind about the type of model it would apply.

The Northern Ireland Secretary is looking at truth commissions in South Africa and South America but also indicated he was interested in storytelling either through film or in print.

On his arrival in Cape Town, Mr Murphy also said yesterday that if people in Northern Ireland wanted reconciliation, they would have to show a desire to come together.

"In South Africa, people wanted to come together after apartheid," he observed.

"We need to learn that healing a nation can`t work unless both sides want to reconcile... Unlike South Africa, we still lack political consensus on reconciling."

Mr Adams said his party was willing to engage in a debate about truth and reconciliation.

The West Belfast MP said any process had to enable victims and their families to tell their stories.

"Stories are being told in sitting rooms, they are being told in family groups and are being told in communities. They are all out there," he said.

"And every so often a journalist will stumble upon them and gives the victims a wider audience. I think there is this element of people having to be empowered to tell their own stories but essentially a truth and reconciliation process is about trying to bring closure to a lot of these issues. You could argue from now till the end of the day whether it should be about justice, which we think it should be about, whether it is about truth. But a big element which we need to stress is that one of the ongoing stories is the story of collusion," Adams said.

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